House eyes plenary vote on Gutierrez impeachment in May

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 15 2011 03:55 PM | Updated as of Feb 16 2011 01:44 AM

Garcia plea bargain deal may be added to impeachment complaint

MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED) Today is simply not Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez’ day.

After losing her battle at the Supreme Court (SC) to invalidate impeachment proceedings against her, Gutierrez faces the prospect of an amended complaint that will include the plea bargain agreement with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

In separate interviews welcoming the ruling of the SC, House Justice Committee Chair Niel Tupas and Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III raised the specter of amending the impeachment case against Gutierrez to include the Garcia plea bargain deal.

Tupas said the committee on justice reached a consensus on the recommendations of the committee report to be issued by his committee after terminating its investigation of the deal.

Among these are:

  • to amend the impeachment complaint to include Garcia plea bargain deal;
  • to recommend to the president the removal of Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit for betrayal of public trust;
  • to file charges against the responsible prosecutors for gross negligence and military officials;
  • to amend current laws on plunder, anti-money laundering, and the charter of the Ombudsman.

With regards to the impeachment, Tupas said they will most likely conduct daily marathon hearings so they can dispose of the case within the 60-session-day deadline imposed by the Constitution.

Tupas said they are eyeing a vote on probable cause at the committee level before Congress goes on summer break on March 24, with a plenary vote scheduled upon the resumption of session in May.

The 60-session-day deadline lapses 3rd week of January.

Current House rules no longer allow creeping impeachment—meaning, the gathering of signatures of 1/3 of the total number of congressmen--during the proceedings.

The precedent set by the impeachment of former President Joseph Estrada in 2000, when the impeachment complaint was immediately sent to the Senate after getting 1/3 signatures of congressmen, is no longer possible.

Now, the 1/3 must be in place upon filing or upon voting at the floor.

Tupas said the committee appreciates the Supreme Court’s ruling, especially since, as Tupas noted, the ruling today clarifies provisions of the Francisco case in the Davide impeachment.

Tupas, however, said that one possible question now is whether they will wait for the end of any appeal that may be filed by the Ombudsman.

Tañada also welcomed the decision and noted it recognized the power of impeachment.

He also supports the possible scheduling of marathon hearings.

Tañada said they are studying the amendment of the impeachment case to include the Garcia plea bargain.

However, they are cautious that it doesn’t become a reason for the Ombudsman to file another question before the SC that could delay the proceedings.